Can we pioneer a technology solution to connect probation clients to jobs?

Over 100 people participated in an online conversation LivingCities held yesterday with the Job Opportunities Task Force, Georgia Justice Project, Brightline Defense Project, and the Center for Employment Opportunity. The Twitterverse echoed with an additional 442 tweets sporting one of the webinar’s hashtags: #reentry, #recidivism, or #access2jobs. According to hashtracking, 58% of the usage were retweets.

A few facts that make recidivism a critical topic now:

  • 2.4 Million people are incarcerated in the U.S.
  • Incarceration costs U.S. taxpayers $63.4 Billion.
  • 7 Million children have at least 1 parent in the justice system or under its supervision.
  • Despite the increase in costs and prisoners, the U.S. crime rate has dropped by more than 40 percent over the last 20 years.

Michael Jacobson, former director of the Vera Institute of Justice, is quoted in a CBS article saying “The United States has about 5 percent of the world’s population, but we have 25 percent of the world’s prisoners – we incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any country on Earth.”

The CEO from Center for Employment Opportunity, Sam Schaeffer, took the time to break down how often and why they return. Check out some of the statistics from the presentation:

  • 43.3% of those sent home from state prison are reincarcerated within three years.
  • 19.9% of all released individuals were reincarcerated for a new crime.
  • 25.5% of all released individuals were reincarcerated for a technical violation of supervision.

So, what’s the problem with organizations working to connect people with criminal records to jobs — creating a smooth reentry into the community? The programs don’t always work. And, in recent cases, programs are increasing the number of people returning to jail. As Schaeffer points out, the link between recidivism and jobs is not crystal clear. Success connects the right person with the right job opportunity at the right time.

What we didn’t hear yesterday is: how can technology serve this role and fill this gap?

What if probation clients could scroll through opportunities for jobs, training and ‘wrap-around’ services that appealed to them in real time? What if companies and organizations with opportunities post them somewhere visible and easy-to-access, like an app?

What if we told you that app already exists?

It does. The New York City Department of Probation is no stranger to innovation: in January, they were awarded the Excellence in Community Crime Prevention Award from the American Probation and Parole Association, their probation clients collaborate on poetry, and have introduced college education into prisons. Now, they are also using this technology platform to structure, encourage and track potential metrics in recidivism.

With a complex problem like this one, there are as many approaches as there are nuances. Data proves important regardless of tactic. On December 9, 2013, the U.S. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said, “We [U.S. Department of Justice] are adopting data-driven, consensus-based policies designed to reduce recidivism and corrections spending.” The ability to develop in an agile methodology, analyze and incorporate insights, and listen to users is paramount to refining it into a model that produces the results we need to reverse the patterns in our justice system today.

You can read more about NYC’s probation model on Harvard’s Data-Smart Cities Solutions and the way we are approaching data on Markets for Good (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and on our blog.

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The Job Opportunities Task Force is doing good work. I’m thankful that someone is finally addressing the recividism problem in the US. We need more jobs, more education, and we need to stop locking people up for decades just so we can say we are winning the war on drugs. Daniel Lazarine wrote an article similar to this one on his blog and I think both of these articles need to be shared with more people.